Last fall at a high school cross-country meet in Helena, Mike McNamara approached Governor’s Cup assistant race director Jesse Zentz with suggestion … or a request. Shoot, maybe it was a demand.
“I think you need to bring the marathon relay back to the Governor’s Cup,” Zentz remembers him saying.
The race holds a special place in McNamara’s heart. He and his friends ran in the last three iterations of the event in 2006, 2007 and 2008. And each year, they celebrated afterwards with a barbecue. But the event was pulled from the menu in 2008. He and his buddies adjusted by running the 5K or 10K together, but it just didn’t generate the same feeling.
Little did McNamara know when he made his suggestion/request/demand, but shortly after the 2016 Governor’s Cup ended, race director Janet Robinson and her team had already begun developing a plan to bring the relay back into the fold.
“We’re incredibly excited to bring back the relay,” said Zentz, who added that the marathon relay’s 20-team field is full. “It’s proven to be a popular decision with the running community, and we can’t wait to see the teams out on the course. We’re also confident it will add even more energy and excitement to the event.”
The 44th Governor’s Cup features the widest variety of races at a single running/walking event in Montana, with a marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, 10K, 5K, and Kids Marathon and Fun Run. The marathon relay was originally added in 1987 and makes its return after an eight-year hiatus.
“The best thing about it is just the camaraderie,” said McNamara, 50, who lives in Montana City. “You get together with three friends, you all have the same goal in mind of getting in shape together, and it’s just a lot of fun.”
His team is comprised of Randy Graham, 54, Keith Berg, 51, and Jay Plant, 48, which means they’ll be competing in the men’s masters category (40 and older). Graham, of Choteau, was McNamara’s high school track coach in Malta, while Berg, of Helena, was his college roommate and basketball teammate at Wayne State (undergrad) and University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse (grad school). Plant, a first-time member of the relay team, is a close friend of McNamara’s in Montana City. The two crossed paths in their younger years when McNamara played basketball and ran the 400 at Malta High and Plant was a student-athlete at Glasgow High.
“We’ve pretty much been training on our own, because we’re rarely all in the same place at the same time, but we’ve been texting back and forth – bragging about how far we’ve run,” McNamara said.
Meanwhile in the women’s open category will be a group of four Helena High students that includes McNamara’s daughter, Tatum, and Plant’s daughter, Alyssa. They’ll be joined by fellow Bengals Katelyn McKay and tentatively Aine Lawlor. All four are coming off strong track seasons.
“We’ve been talking a little smack, but we know what’s going to happen,” Mike McNamara said. “They’re going to beat us pretty bad.”
The two teams will join 18 other squads on the same course enjoyed by the marathon and half marathon runners. Eleven of the 20 teams are in the women’s open category, while there are two men’s open teams, one men’s masters team and six coed open teams. Race organizers decided to limit the field to 20 teams this year to ensure logistics work smoothly before expanding in future years.
“We’re going to smoke them,” Tatum McNamara said with a wry smile and a laugh, when asked how she and her teammates are going to fare against her dad’s team. “It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun. We won’t be able to run together in a group, but it will be fun to work as a team”
Each runner will navigate a unique part of the marathon and half marathon course:
• Leg 1: Gold Rush, 6.1 miles, net elevation loss of 1,000 feet.
• Leg 2: Silver City High Roller, 7.0 miles, net elevation loss of 180 feet with rolling hills.
• Leg 3: Iron Horse, 8.0 miles, net elevation loss of 350 feet with two railroad crossings and moderate climbing.
• Leg 4: City Slicker, 5.1 miles, net elevation gain of 300 feet into downtown Helena.
The four runners on the winning teams in each category will receive a unique award tied directly to the leg they ran for their respective team.